When Burt Bacharach and Hal David arrived on Broadway in 1968 with Promises, Promises, their invigorating pop sound was greeted with accolades. The great songwriting team, which had already produced dozens of hit songs that would go on to become standards — including "The Look of Love," "Walk On By" and "I Say a Little Prayer" — energized musical theatre with a score that the critic Martin Gottfried called "a real breakthrough for Broadway."
Promises, Promises ran for 1,281 performances, but in spite of its success they never attempted another show. The collaborators who seemed poised to steer the musical in another direction, bridging the gap between pop and Broadway, broke up in 1973. For some 20 years their stylish songs fell out of fashion. Then a new generation embraced their music, and for the past decade Bacharach and David have been hot all over again. In 1997 both City Center's Encores! and Reprise! in Los Angeles staged acclaimed concert versions of Promises, Promises.
For the first time in more than three decades their music is back on Broadway, in The Look of Love: The Songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. The show, produced by the Roundabout Theatre Company, is directed by Scott Ellis and choreographed by Ann Reinking and features some 30 songs.
Bacharach and David had worked with other collaborators before teaming up in 1957. "We wrote some pretty bad songs initially," says Bacharach. Record producers didn't know what to make of his unexpected melodies, unusual phrasing and unorthodox rhythms. "I compromised a lot with people who said things like, 'If you make that three-bar phrase into a four-bar phrase, we'll give you so-and-so to record the songs,'" he says. "So I'd do it their way, and I'd end up ruining the song. It was only when I was able to take control in the studio that things changed."
From the beginning, David responded to Bacharach's quirky style. "His music sounded perfectly natural to me," says the lyricist. "And I think that's why the songs became hits. Because the public didn't know the music was difficult or architecturally complicated or rhythmically changeable. The public just sensed the originality, the inventiveness." Although Bacharach is not part of the creative team that put together The Look of Love, he has served as a consultant. "I was involved in the selection of a couple of key players in the orchestra. I tried to be very involved in what the instrumentation was going to be. I've been in communication with [co-conceiver and music director] David Loud, who's very good. Don Sebesky is orchestrating, which is a huge plus. He not only has a good theatre mentality, but a good pop-record mentality.
"Originally I thought I'd just let them do the show and I'd go and see it. But I got involved because I think we've got a good shot, and I realize you just get one shot. I never saw either of those Promises revivals in New York or Los Angeles, because to me it was going backwards, and I don't do that. I'm always looking ahead."